The Comptroller’s Poster Problem

If for some bizarre reason you want your eyes to go out of focus, look up Section 10-119 of the city’s Administrative Code.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

There you will learn that it is illegal for anyone to “paste, post, paint, print, nail or attach or affix by any means whatsoever any handbill, poster, notice, sign, advertisement, sticker or other printed material upon any curb, gutter flagstone, tree, lamppost, awning post, telegraph pole, telephone pole, public utility pole, public garbage bin, bus shelter. …”

You get the idea. The section rumbles on for another 355 words, leaving you googly-eyed well before the end. (You’ve got to love the part about the telegraph pole. Is there a crisis of telegraph-pole abuse in this city that we missed?)

But the point is plain: To use an old phrase, post no bills.

The warning is routinely violated. All sorts of material is taped to lampposts, whether by college students offering computer lessons or by families whose pets wander off. The Sanitation Department, which deals with these matters, isn’t in the habit of handing summonses to disconsolate cat owners. “We have a heart,” said Vito A. Turso, the chief department spokesman.

The municipal heart, however, does not go out to politicians who run afoul of Section 10-119 with their campaign posters. Election Day comes and goes. Winds blow. Rains fall. Posters become a sodden mess that slide to the ground. “Somebody’s got to sweep it up,” Mr. Turso said. That somebody is a sanitation worker. And so the department issues bushels of summonses to political campaigns, each ticket typically carrying a $75 fine.

This is not new. But the issue has resonance now because of questions raised about the city comptroller, John C. Liu, a man who would be mayor.

On Wednesday, Mr. Liu’s campaign finances were cast most unfavorably in an article in The New York Times that described a series of irregularities involving some of his donors. Interviewed by NY1 Wednesday night, he said that “to the extent that there are discrepancies, we are going to get to the bottom of it.”

Mr. Liu has another financial problem, though. The Sanitation Department says he owes the city more than $500,000, a result of 7,000 summonses for posters put up unlawfully when he ran for comptroller in 2009.

He is not alone in this regard. The previous comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., ran up more than $600,000 in sanitation fines in his 2009 race for mayor. The public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who is yet another would-be mayor, was good for $300,000 in tickets.

For the better part of two years, all three men refused to pay, challenging the validity of the fines. Two weeks ago, Mr. de Blasio finally agreed to settle. He didn’t need the “distraction,” he said. Presumably, he also didn’t need being repeatedly cast as a deadbeat in the tabloids.

But Messrs. Liu and Thompson have dug in their heels. Mr. Liu, in particular, often finds himself a leading character in a Daily News editorial feature called “Weasel Watch.”

The struggle over tickets is a pettifogger’s dream: Were summonses mailed to the correct campaign official? Was the postage right? Were the ticket numbers properly recorded?

There are also whispers within the Liu camp that City Hall may have had a hand in seeking substantial fines. Not that the mayor’s campaigns have been above putting up plenty of their own illegal posters. But they have a billionaire’s bank account to tap. For them, a $500,000 fine is pocket change, the cost of doing business.

For others, though, it’s real money. Small wonder, then, that they are latching onto every technicality in sight.

Still, squarely under the microscope as he now is, Mr. Liu may want to think how all this looks. Here he is, the city comptroller, a man whose job it is to wag his finger at others about keeping their books in order, and meanwhile his own finances are raising eyebrows.

Being a “Weasel Watch” regular is not something to brag about when running for mayor.

For more local news, including a campaign windfall for Republican politicians who supported same-sex marriage, the search for the missing cornerstone at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a Bowery building that houses a flophouse and a luxurious hotel designed like a flophouse, see the N.Y./Region section.

Here is what City Room is reading in other papers and blogs:

A former New York Police Department detective testified that detectives frequently fabricated drug charges to meet arrest quotas. [Daily News] (Also see The New York Post.)

A $25 million lawsuit was filed in against the city in Brooklyn federal court by a girl who says she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution by an police detective when she was 13. [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told the Occupy Wall Street protesters that they would have to leave Zuccotti Park briefly so that it could be cleaned. [Wall Street Journal, New York Times] (Also see The Daily News, The New York Times and DNA Info.)

State education officials announced that New York City has to improve education standards for students who are learning English. [Wall Street Journal] (Also see The New York Times.)

Hundreds of teenagers crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. [Daily News] (Also see mcbrooklyn.)

A Staten Island man was arrested after he was captured on a surveillance video shooting a man who had spit in his wife’s face 12 times, the police said. [Daily News]

A 26-year-old man was arrested in connection with a groping attack in Sunset Park. He may be among those responsible for the series of attacks that have occurred in the park over the past few months. [Brooklyn Paper]

A second passenger died from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash in the East River last week. [New York Post] (Also see The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.)

Schools are struggling to fill the void left by the recent layoffs of nearly 700 employees. [Daily News]

A Columbia Business School class is tackling the perennial problem of supplying adequate taxis for travelers leaving Kennedy International Airport. [Wall Street Journal]

Community Board 7 wants to keep tabs on Upper West Side food trucks. [DNA Info]

Video: A truck driver used a trick license plate to avoid paying tolls on the George Washington Bridge, The Post reports. [New York Post]

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